It’s nearly a foregone conclusion that CC Sabathia’s $25MM option for the 2017 season will vest at season’s end — he’d have to be on the disabled list due to a shoulder injury in order for the option not to trigger — but the big lefty tells Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News that he’s felt so good in 2016 that he isn’t having any thoughts that next year could be his last.
“I know I want to pitch after next year, but I haven’t thought about where or what,” said Sabathia. “Hopefully it will be here. We’ll see.”
While many can accuse Sabathia of putting the cart before the horse, it’s understandable that he’s thinking long term as he puts the finishing touches on his healthiest season since 2013. Myriad knee and elbow injuries limited the former Cy Young winner to just 213 innings in 2014-15, and there was a great deal of uncertainty about his ability to hold up entering the season. Sabathia took to wearing a brace to protect his surgically repaired knee this season, and it would appear that the added support has done him plenty of good. The 36-year-old has pitched to a 4.02 ERA (his lowest mark since 2012) over the life of 172 1/3 innings and averaged 7.5 K/9 against 3.3 BB/9 to go along with the second best ground-ball rate of his career (49.7 percent).
Sabathia will pitch the majority of the 2017 season at the age of 36, so the 2018 campaign he’s targeting at this point would only be his age-37 season — a more than reasonable goal if he proves healthy next year. Of course, Sabathia did hedge his aspirations somewhat, adding the critical caveat: “I know I feel like it’s not my time yet. Barring any crazy injuries, I know I can pitch past next year.”
While no longer the front-line pitcher that he was when he signed a then-record $161MM contract with the Yankees, Sabathia’s 2016 results suggest that there would be plenty of a market for him if he’s able to navigate another season without a significant injury. A pitcher capable of pitching 180 to 200 innings and turning in a roughly 4.00 ERA at Yankee Stadium/in the AL East would certainly have appeal, even if it were only as a fourth starter to round out a team’s rotation and provide some leadership to younger arms.
For those interested in checking out Sabathia’s hypothetical competition, MLBTR has already released its list of 2017-18 free agents, and the crop of starting pitchers looks to be considerably better than the upcoming class. Sabathia is slated to be joined by names like Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, Johnny Cueto (if he opts out of his Giants deal), Alex Cobb, Danny Duffy, Tyson Ross and his own teammate, Michael Pineda. Of course, the possibility exists that one or more of those names will sign extensions, and others, most notably Ross, come with plenty of question marks surrounding their health.